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Inside the event text messaging strategy that grew Makers Collective’s contact list from 0 to 472

Are you trying to build your event SMS list but don’t know where to start? Read on as we share ideas that a real event organizer uses to grow their list.

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Ask any event organizer what they want for their events, and they are sure to tell you one of these three things:

  • “We want to increase the number of attendees at our events,”
  • “We want to be able to collect attendee information so we can reach them some other time,”
  • “We want to ensure attendees enjoy their time and are looking forward to the next event.”

With so many different marketing channels, how can businesses — especially small businesses — satisfy these wants and ensure their event’s success? 

Event text messaging is one of the most underrated but effective channels. 

This guide will show how Makers Collective used SMS or text messaging to grow an engaged list of customers to whom they can promote future events. 

You’ll also learn why using text marketing is a no-brainer, how to overcome the challenge of building your list, and ideas you can use to keep your audience engaged in between events.

Let’s dig in.

What is Makers Collective?

Makers Collective is a non-profit organization that provides resources for creative entrepreneurs and artists. These resources empower makers like leather workers, painters, and ceramicists to show and sell their work. 

Two smiling event attendees at a craft fair who are wearing shirts that say "Indie Craft Parade"
Source: Makers Collective Instagram

Makers Collective also hosts a yearly event known as Indie Craft Parade. This two-day event, typically held in September, connects creative entrepreneurs, artists, and makers with their local communities. 

Indie Craft Parade has two primary audiences. These are (1) art lovers and community members and (2) artists or vendors at the event. 

The artists are usually curated from a list of applications. For the 2023 edition of the Indie Craft Parade, 118 artists were chosen from around 400 applications.

Attendees and vendors combined, Makers Collective expects over 9,000 people to attend the event — making it a big deal within the creative community.

Although the Indie Craft Parade sounds exciting, marketing the event came with unique challenges.

What marketing problems did they face?

Here are some marketing challenges that have held the event team back while promoting the Indie Craft Parade.

Inability to collect customer data

Lib Ramos, creative director at Makers Collective, says one of the challenges they have is “collecting data from festival attendees.” 

This is a consistent issue because, for the 13 years that they’ve been hosting the event, the venue has always handled ticket sales — making attendees buy tickets at the door. 

Because Makers Collective has been unable to sell directly to attendees, they don’t have the means to collect data like email addresses and phone numbers.

Without such data, keeping in touch with the people who attend the event would be near impossible, a nightmare for any marketer.

However, thanks to a special deal with the venue, Makers Collective can sell tickets online on the event’s opening night. Because of this arrangement, they can collect contact information from the attendees, albeit only a fraction, which isn’t still enough.

You could be in a similar situation where collecting information from your event attendees is challenging. 

How do you intend to overcome this roadblock? Continue reading to learn from some of the ideas that helped Makers Collective.

Let’s now examine the second challenge they faced.

Finding easy-to-measure marketing channels

Insights from your marketing data inform the decisions you make about your campaign.

Do you need to change the headline? Replace a picture? Target a new demographic? Or make more room in your budget to back your current campaign?

You’ll only be able to answer these questions accurately if you track the right metrics and use the correct channels to reach your audience.

The Makers Collective team has tried different marketing channels.

“From the first festival in 2010, we’ve been doing billboard ads, radio ads, and posters,” says Lib. These traditional marketing channels surely have their place in the event promotion space. 

However, it takes a lot of work to tell which channels are working and what specifically about the ads was working. Over time, shifting towards digital marketing channels like social media is necessary. 

In Makers Collective’s case, they picked up Facebook and Instagram ads.

These ads worked for a while, but their effectiveness dropped off the map. 

Coupled with the initial challenge of selling tickets at the door, it was hard to measure how effective the ads were. 

There was no way to tell the direct link between their audience seeing a social media ad and choosing to buy a ticket for the event. 

Faced with these two significant challenges, there was a need to find answers to questions like how do we promote this year’s festival? How do we reach new people? How do we make sure our long-standing customers come back?

The answer? Jackie Soladay, Paris Mountain Marketing’s President, recommended SMS marketing.

What is SMS marketing?

Short Message Service marketing, or SMS marketing, involves using text messages to communicate with customers and promote your goods and services.

Another term used to describe SMS marketing is text marketing.

The basics of getting started with SMS marketing are choosing your business number, building your SMS contact or subscriber list, and sending messages to your subscribers. 

You’ll need permission before you can start sending marketing text messages; otherwise, it’ll be reported as spam, and you could face heavy fines.

Why use SMS marketing?

Of all the marketing channels, why did Jackie recommend SMS marketing? 

Here is why.

High open rates

“One of the reasons why I like SMS marketing is because the open rate is just exceptional.” Jackie says. She continues, “ Its 90%-99% open rate and a 2% unsubscribe rate are numbers that email platforms can’t even dream about.”

90%-99% open rates? Did Jackie just pull those numbers out of thin air? Not at all. 

The results from research carried out by different organizations support this claim. Sender’s research shows that SMS messages, on average, have a 98% open rate. Research and consulting firm Gartner also reports open rates as high as 98% for text marketing.

At SimpleTexting, we carried out a study of our own. The result of our study gives a glimpse into why SMS marketing has such high open rates.

Based on over 1400 survey responses, we found that 78% of people use their phones to exchange text messages. That’s a higher percentage than those who use their phones to check social media (66%) or send and receive emails (50.4%). 

Infographic of mobile activities that people engage with the most throughout the day -- with texting at 78%
Source: SimpleTexting’s 2023 SMS marketing survey

The survey also shows that 13.8% of people check their text messages over 20 times daily. 

Surely, SMS messages are rarely going to get ignored or unnoticed.

Here are other reasons why SMS marketing is an excellent option for promoting your event and reaching new people.

SMS is a great acquisition & retention tool

Many marketers today consider retaining existing customers as crucial as acquiring new ones. For this reason, they’re constantly looking for marketing channels that allow them to achieve both goals quickly.

SMS works well for this because:

  • People read their texts almost immediately
  • You can send event reminders to your subscriber list
  • You already have your customers’ permission to reach them 
  • Texts feel more intimate (1-on-1) than social media (1-to-many)
  • You can send in-event messages and post-event follow-ups to your attendees.
  • Your messages can be personalized based on the specific response you receive from event attendees.

And so much more.

Text marketing is easy to measure

Tracking and evaluating your marketing campaigns is the best way to know whether your strategy works. 

With SMS marketing, there are many metrics you can track to determine your campaign’s success. 

Metrics like contact growth rate and contact unsubscribe rate help you measure the size of your list. Other metrics like clickthrough rates, average response time, and conversion rates help you determine your list’s engagement levels. 

What is more, you can track all the metrics of your SMS campaign in one place with the help of a text message marketing platform like SimpleTexting.

Screenshot of SimpleTexting's dashboard for text message analytics
Source: SimpleTexting’s SMS platform

SimpleTexting’s dedicated analytics tab shows a complete analysis of your text messaging campaign over a specific timeframe.

Now that Jackie and Lib have identified they need to start using SMS to improve attendance at their events, another question pops up.

Since they’re starting from scratch, how would they collect phone numbers and get people to sign up for their messages?

Let’s find out.

How to collect phone numbers before an event

You don’t have to wait till the start of your event before building your SMS list. Here are some ideas on collecting phone numbers in the period leading up to an event.

Use your website

Almost every business has a website today — whether they’re using it to educate their audience, promote and sell goods and services, or for other reasons.

Your website offers valuable real estate for web forms you can use to collect phone numbers. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, as you can use forms similar to the ones used for collecting emails.

Speaking of emails.

Ask in your emails

You can leverage your engaged email list to build your SMS list. Add a call to action (CTA) at the end of your emails, asking people to join your SMS list.

Since these are already on your email list, they might be more willing to join your new list — especially if you promise (and deliver on your promise) to make it worthwhile.

You could also create an email campaign encouraging people to join your SMS list.  

Use social media

As you spread the word about your event on social media, asking your followers to join your SMS list is not out of place. 

You could run ads and giveaways that would widen your post’s reach and increase the number of people who join your list.

Distribute postcards

While postcards and flyers are traditional promotion channels, they can still be useful in collecting phone numbers for your list. 

This is especially the case if your event has a local significance. 

The Makers Collective, for instance, dropped off their postcards at local coffee shops. These postcards had a text-to-subscribe QR code that offered insider perks that people could enjoy if they signed up for text messages.

How to collect phone numbers during an event

Remember that SMS marketing is a permission-based type of marketing. As such, buying a list of random phone numbers is illegal. 

Although you can’t buy a list, many other ways exist to collect your audience’s phone numbers and build a list.

Here are some methods we shared with Makers Collective team.

Offer an incentive

Incentives motivate people to take specific actions. In this case, you give them something in exchange for their phone numbers and other contact information.

For companies selling physical products, these incentives could be free deliveries and samples in exchange for phone numbers. Although these kinds of incentives might not work for an event, it’s crucial that whatever incentive you choose is something valuable that would excite your audience.

So, what can be valuable to event attendees? Here are some ideas:

Event maps

With thousands of attendees and hundreds of vendors, people might need help navigating the venue and finding new vendors to shop from. To help these attendees, create an event map.

How do attendees access this map? By texting an SMS keyword to your business number. The keyword should be easy to remember to stay top of your audience’s minds.  

For example, the keyword for offering your audience a map could be as simple as “MAP.” When they text this keyword to your number, they’ll receive a link to the venue map and get added to your list.

Custom art

One of the favorite things people love to do at an event is to create memories by taking pictures and videos. 

At an event like the Indie Craft Parade, where a ton of art is on display, offering attendees a tangible or physical piece of art in exchange for their phone numbers makes sense.

These stamps add a personal touch, and attendees can text in to have their copy. 

Photo booth downloads

Similar to custom prints, in the sense that they’re physical, event photo booths give you another chance to collect people’s phone numbers during an event.

Photo booth cards from the Indie Craft Parade
Source: Makers Collective’s Instagram


Say you have a photo booth at your event venue. Ask attendees to text an SMS keyword to get the digital version of the pictures from the booth. 

That way, if two or more people are in the booth together, they can quickly get their copies of the pictures.

Welcome table/booth

Welcome tables are commonplace at events. And they can be beneficial in a situation like Makers Collective — where they couldn’t collect attendee information before the event.

Event attendees shaking hands and greeting each other at the Indie Craft Parade
Source: Makers Collective’s website

One way to use this welcome display is to make it serve as a hub for information about the event. This is where attendees first come to when they arrive at the venue and turn to when they have questions. 

Because of the traffic potential at the welcome booth or display, you could use it to promote a giveaway. The caveat to enter the giveaway? You guessed it — they’ll need to provide their phone numbers so you can add them to your list. In line with compliance rules, though, these individuals need to know what they subscribe to receive.

Ask attendees to send in pictures from the event

This idea lets you engage with your event attendees while collecting their phone numbers. In addition, you also get a ton of user-generated content that you can use for other campaigns.

Lib was worried about how much administrative work it would take to manage all the photos received from attendees.

However, SimpleTexting’s SMS platform has a simple solution for that, as you can manage all the pictures you receive from your attendees in one place. That way, you could send personalized responses to each individual.

Brianna LaCarubam, an event planner at the Franchise Brokers Association (FBA), told us that she also uses SMS to collect event photos.

“We have a professional photographer that we use,” Brianna said, “but that photographer can’t capture the 20 people over here and then the 300 other people over there at the same time.”

Brianna said she downloaded over 1,000 photos that attendees sent in at FBA’s most recent annual conference. That’s more photos than she’s seen in previous years, when she asked attendees to send in pictures via email. She attributes the increase in photos to how easy it is to attach photos to a text message.

Create an exclusive text club

When executed properly, exclusivity draws more people to a product or service. It works even better when you genuinely have something to offer your audience that they cannot find anywhere else. 

The Makers Collective has just that — with their fingers on the pulse of the art community. Creating a text club branded as “The Indie Artists Insider’s Club” could be a way to create exclusive value for their community.

By joining this text club, subscribers would be able to receive subscriber-only content, early bird access, and VIP meet-and-greets between artists and the community.

Set up displays

You can place banners or posters around your event venue at different locations that encourage attendees to sign up for text promotions. 

These displays should be eye-catching, have clear instructions, for example, “Text READY to 12345,” and let attendees know what they’re signing up for.

Now that you’ve found ways to collect phone numbers, what should you send to them?

How to engage subscribers between events (what to send)

It’s not enough simply to collect your audience’s phone numbers. Finding ways to engage them throughout the year is crucial — whether there’s an event or not.

Here are some ideas of what you could send.

Event reminders

People have a million and one things they want to do, so it’s pretty easy for them to forget about your event. It’s your responsibility to remind them. 

Since emails and social media are mostly cluttered, sending a text message efficiently cuts through the noise and gets directly into your audience’s inbox.

Your event reminder message should include details about the event, like the venue and time. You should also include extra bits like how to make a reservation.

We recommend sending these reminder text messages on the days leading up to the event.

Illustrated text message that says "Come check out our celebration of handmade goods! Indie Craft Parade starts this Saturday, September 16, 9AM-6PM at Timmons Arena. Get your tickets here" and a popup to schedule the text campaign.

Event updates

Despite your best efforts, some things might go differently than planned. Maybe some vendors flaked, parking arrangements changed, or because of inclement weather. 

For example, there was inclement weather on the weekend of the 2022 Indie Craft Parade. Had they already set up text marketing, they easily could have texted attendees to let them know the event was still open and that the weather didn’t affect them much.

When such a change of plans happens, text is one of the fastest ways to get new information across to your audience.

Post-event surveys

After the event, you can send text messages asking attendees what they thought about the event. 

What did they like? What would they want to see more of? And how they think you can improve. 

While you already use emails for these surveys, you could switch to SMS to get quicker responses and encourage your audience to use the channel more.

Welcome texts

A welcome text is the first message a subscriber receives after joining your SMS list.

This message or series of messages helps to shape the impression you want your audience to have of your business. They also set expectations so subscribers know what’s in store for them.

Attendee engagement texts

These messages give your subscribers a reason to be invested in your events. You could ask for their opinion on who they’d love to see at upcoming events. 

In Makers Collective’s case, they could ask their subscribers to vote on the vendors to set up shop at the next Indie Craft Parade. Doing so ensures that the vendors who show up are the ones most of your audience is interested in.

Choose the right SMS marketing platform to grow your event list

It’s clear just how valuable SMS marketing can be for your event. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a greenhorn with no numbers on your list. The Makers Collective’s example shows that you can quickly build your list.

We’ve shared what worked for them and general best practices that’d set you well on your way to creating an engaged list.

To properly manage the numbers you collect and ensure you have all the resources needed to grow, you’d need an SMS marketing tool or platform — one like SimpleTexting.

Screenshot of the campaign creation tab of SimpleTexting's event texting platform.

SimpleTexting is an excellent choice for the following reasons:

  1. Every pricing plan comes with our full suite of features like two-way texting and mass texting.
  2. Our app integrates with thousands of other software in your tech stack.
  3. There’s no limit to the number of keywords and contacts you can have.
  4. The built-in AI message generator saves you time, effort, and resources.
  5. It’s the only platform to offer free compliance messages.
  6. Our customer support team is here every day of the week.

We’re a complete SMS marketing platform that can help you, whether you’re starting from scratch or have an existing list.

Book a demo today to see how SimpleTexting can meet your business’s specific needs.

Nathan Ojaokomo
Nathan Ojaokomo

Nathan Ojaokomo has created content for leading SaaS brands like CoSchedule, Vimeo, Metigy, and Sender. He's a firm believer that companies who win are the ones that put their customers first.

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